Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est – Matthew 16:12-19

“I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

There are but a few moments in the history of God’s people that were truly revolutionary, resulting in a positive change of direction for them. In the Old Testament we would certainly count the Passover as one example of this; also, that awesome and powerful day when Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, is another; the anointing of David as king of Israel, and the return of the exiled Israelites to rebuild the temple, are other examples. The New Testament opens with the birth of Christ; His birth, life, death, and resurrection unquestionably changed the world’s course forever. In the history of the church after Christ, we would count the first Pentecost recorded in the book of Acts as well as the Reformation, which began 500 years ago, as wholly transformative events in the history of the church.

I believe that if one were to catalogue the top ten or twenty momentous events in the history of God’s people, they would have to include the narrative from our text in Matthew’s Gospel. For several reasons, this is the single-most discussed text in the entire book. In chapter 16 of the Gospel, Jesus cuts off the doctrinal authority of the Sadducees and Pharisees from the people of God (16:1-12), and He reforms His people in what He now calls his “church.” Christ builds His church upon the firm confession of the apostle Peter in verse 16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is a foundational declaration for the Christian church. This event quite remarkably parallels what happened in the 16th century when God reformed His people again after cutting off the doctrinal authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The true church is built upon none other than Christ; and any time the visible church strays from that foundation to any other “rock,” they become a false church from which God rescues and reforms His remnant people. This is something that continues on both large and small scales throughout the history of God’s church.

Ecclesia semper reformanda est, often shortened to Ecclesia semper reformanda, is Latin for, “the church must always be reformed.” It refers to the conviction that God’s people must continually re-examine their foundation to ensure that it is pure in doctrine and practice; and when it is found faulty, it must return afresh to the Foundation which Peter confessed.

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